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How to Deal With Head Lice in Jail

Working as a boots-on-the-floor correctional officer has given the author hands-on experiences to share with others in this unique field.

Getting rid of lice is difficult.

Getting rid of lice is difficult.

What to Do About Hair Hitchhikers

Head lice is a nasty little subject that no one likes to talk about, much less deal with, but in the jail environment, it is a huge hassle. The closed environment that we work in and the people that we deal with sometimes put us in this situation, so here are some facts that you need to know about head lice:

  • They are parasites that feed on human blood from the scalp. They need blood to live and will die in 24 to 48 hours without it.
  • They go through three life stages:
    1. Egg (nit): 7 to 9 days
    2. Nymph: 9 days
    3. Adult lice: 30 days
  • Head lice spread through close contact with a person’s head or by sharing things like hats, helmets, and pillows.
  • They cannot jump or fly, but they can quickly crawl from one person to another at 9 inches per minute.
  • They will attach their eggs to the root of someone’s hair. Therefore, if you find nits in someone’s hair that is halfway down the shaft of the follicle, then it’s safe to presume that the eggs have been there for 6 months or so and are already hatched.
Is it dandruff or is it lice? They can be hard to distinguish.

Is it dandruff or is it lice? They can be hard to distinguish.

Dandruff vs. Lice

Don’t mistake dandruff for lice. They are, of course, very different, one being a parasite and the other dead skin. Dandruff will fall right off the scalp whereas nits will be difficult to get off the hair strand.

Lice Are Inevitable

Head lice are inevitable in jail, but there are measures we can take to minimize the risk. A good pat-down should include a quick inspection of the scalp. Catching it as early as possible can head off all kinds of ugliness later.

  1. If you find a subject has head lice during the booking process, make sure they shower well in a medicated booking shower, and if possible, treat their scalp with head lice treatment—that is hopefully always on hand—as directed on the package. Then, allow them to shower again to remove the chemicals as directed.
  2. Isolate the inmate in a single cell and have them retreat their head per the directions, combing all lice, eggs, and knits from their hair.
  3. When they have been treated twice and are of all evidence of lice, you can then place them in a gen-pop block.

If head lice turn up inside of a block, you will take the same measure, only on a larger scale.

  1. Issue the stock head lice treatment to the entire pod; order everyone to treat their heads per the instructions. This is not optional—everyone will treat their head.
  2. Everyone will exchange their clothing and bedding for clean ones, and all contaminated clothing and bedding will go to the laundry with a warning to the laundry staff to handle them appropriately. Once again, this is not optional— everyone will exchange their clothes and bedding.
  3. The lice-killing spray that comes with head lice treatment kits can be issued to the pod for them to spray down mattresses and other items. Once more, it’s not an option—it’s an order.
  4. In the prescribed days, the block will be given supplies and instructed to treat their heads again and spray down their areas again. A second exchange of clothing/bedding is not needed unless the lice are found again.

Expect a great deal of drama, fear, and confusion from the inmates of the affected pod. There will be hysterics, there will be bullying, and there will be attitudes.

There will also be paranoia. Education helps dispel fear and paranoia. Knowledge is power—knowledge is peace.

"It'll All Come Out in the Wash"

It's an old saying, but it's still true: it really will all come out in the wash.

After the initial shock has worn off and the hysterics calm down, good ol' soap and water along with the proper application of treatments will nip the problem right in the bud... er, uh... bug.

In my experience, I've found it helpful to print out a fact sheet and hand it out to inmates so that they, too, can get educated on the subject because knowledge is power, after all.

Stay safe out there, my friends—and avoid hitchhikers!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.